File photo: Basketball net. CC Flickr by Rob Buenaventura.

Stephanie Rudnick is a former Varsity Blues basketball player who played for current U of T head coach Michele Belanger during the 1994-1999 seasons. In 1999, Rudnick was intent upon playing out her final year of eligibility wearing blue and white. She had goals to “win a National Championship, become an OUA All Star, an All Canadian, and then play pro in Israel.” Following these achievements, Rudnick planned to return to Canada and start her own basketball camp. 

Playing through several back injuries, Rudnick was named an OUA All Star in her fourth year. Before being able to check another goal off her list, Rudnick’s life took an unexpected turn. In May 1999, her father was diagnosed with stage four cancer, and passed away only two months after his diagnosis. Devastated and injured, Rudnick did not return to the Blues that fall and was forced to revise a plan that she had dedicated years of her life to fulfilling.

No pro contract, no business education, and in the midst of a devastating loss, Rudnick was left without direction. “Feeling self-defeated I cried to him about how my old plan was ruined,” Rudnick explained how she reacted when a friend asked about what she would do next.

It was only after this meeting and some serious thought that Rudnick conceptualized Elite Camps. Born out of pain, Elite Camps is one of the largest and longest running basketball organizations in Canada. Based in the GTA, Elite Camps sees more then 3,000 kids every year and is in its seventeenth year of operation.

To avoid competition with rival clubs, Rudnick explains that her first camp was launched over the holidays: “I found out that Passover was a time with no programming. I decided I would try to run my first camp at that time [to avoid competing with other camps in the GTA].”

Rudnick pursued mentorship from another camp director, joined the Ontario Camping Association, and reached out to her former Varsity Blues teammates to work at her camp. What started as one camp in Toronto soon grew into two, and now Elite Camps runs over 37 sessions in multiple cities.

Next came Swish for the Cure. “A few years after I started my business I really wanted to do something to honour [my father’s] memory,” Rudnick explained, which is how Swish for the Cure — celebrating its tenth anniversary on February 6, started. Swish for the Cure has raised over $135,000 to date for in the name of the Childhood Cancer Foundation. Rudnick explained that the event has evolved in the past ten years from a way to raise money for cancer research, to an opportunity to provide families of children with fighting cancer “a free day of fun, food and time with their family in a safe environment…[including] basketball activities, arts and crafts, carnival activities and many popular local child entertainers.” 

At the time of the first Swish for the Cure, Elite Camps was not the expansive chain of basketball camps that it is today. While Rudnick isn’t one to consider herself a philanthropist out of modesty, she would concede that philanthropy is a lot like playing basketball. Effective philanthropy fills a void in society in the same way that an effective player meets the needs of their team. It can be something small, like rebounding, or something more pronounced like accepting a leadership role.

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